- The way I see it:
What is the function of the body in consciousness?
In this interview form a series of conversations on consciousness between Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks, published in the New York Review of Books, the debate it's served. On it, Riccardo Manzotti defeats the most accepted internalist view tends that align with traditional ideas of the self as an entity located or centred in the head. Not denying the obvious dependency on the body for its existence, the internalist approach doesn't include the body as a central part of the equation of the self, and a crucial one.
That's exactly what Mind-Object Theory highlights and defends. No wanting to be a spoiler, I invite you to read the full transcript of this conversation here, or get inspired by the compilation of the main ideas below.
The standard “internalist” view assumes that conscious perceptions are representations generated by the brain’s neurons in response to input from the world without. The radical externalist view, put forward by Riccardo—the Mind-Object Theory—suggests that our experience, or perception, is the object perceived. There is no internal representation; body and brain are simply the conditions that allow the world as we know it to manifest itself as it does. And we are the world we experience. Or to put it another way, your experience is you.
Let’s stay with the body a moment. Of course it’s absolutely central. There would be no experience without it. Yet we are not our bodies. We are something else. Think about it. We do not experience being neurons and blood vessels. We do not experience being bowels and internal organs. Science teaches us that we are made of such stuff, and constantly invites us to contemplate models of our skeletons and innards and so on, and to identify with them. Yet for thousands of years people never thought of themselves like that at all. Because actually our lives are made up of external events, people, objects, landscapes, and of course the body’s interaction with these things.
Your experience is out there and you with it. The body is a selector and a facilitator, not a host or a container.
The only thing that makes the body “more important” is that without it there would be no experience at all.
First, precisely because the interaction of body and the surrounding world creates a relative world that is unique to that body and to no other, we each experience a world that is different from what others experience.
Second, and equally crucial misconception; our tendency to confuse the body with the “person,” or the self, when very obviously the self is not the body.
The self is just as physical as the body, and equally important. It exerts its influence through the causal conduit that the body offers; it is that particular world that the body both brings into existence and reacts to. The body is the fulcrum, if you like, but the external object, your experience, all your experience, over the years, is the lever, the self.
- The New York Review of Books, by Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks,